The 5 best things about freelancing

Freelancing is great. Here are 5 of the best things about freelancing.

One of the questions I get asked the most about freelancing is “Why?”.

Here are the 5 reasons I freelance.

1. Work/Life Balance

Truth be told – this is biggest reason I gave up the nine-to-five life. Being able to take my kids to school, pick them up, have lunch with my wife, sleep in occasionally… being able to do these things and still make a living is, for me, the best thing about freelancing.

2. A great boss

I don’t just mean me. Sure, I might be self-employed but being able to work for a wide variety of clients means that I’m able to expand my professional network in a way that working for a single company just can’t match.

3. Variety is the spice of life

In any given month I’ll deal with at least four different clients, talk to tens of people and write about several different topics. I’ve got a short attention span but being able to have such a diverse workload keeps me well and truly interested.

4. Being able to choose my work

I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to build a decent freelance practice with a solid client base. That means that I can be a little choosey when it comes to who I work for. I get to work for people I like. If I get a client I find hard to work with I just don’t pitch to them any more.

5. Time management

One thing all freelancers need is to have good time management skills. Without them, a few minutes of procrastination can easily become a lost morning, a lost day and more. However, not being tied to a clock-watching corporate culture (and all the companies I’ve worked for were clockwatchers whether they say it or not) means I can work on a task for as long as it takes. If I hit my week’s deadlines by Wednesday then the rest of the week is easy.

So – why do you freelance? What’s the best part of it for you? Share your thoughts in the comments.

To be considered a professional – act like one

To be treated like a pro act like one. It’s tempting to play it casual but play it straight if you want to be taken seriously.

Have you ever been referred to someone that does a great job but when you first contact them you’re left feeling that they’ve been oversold? It’s happened to me. First impressions do matter and the team at Freelance Folder have come up with a great list of 15 things you can do to be taken seriously.

You can read the full list here. My favourite item in the list is

Detail # 6. Have a Promotional Kit Prepared
When potential clients contact you requesting information about what you do, do you have anything professional you can send them? Or do you just type up a short, plain text e-mail with a couple links?

How do you stack up against the list? What about me? My business site is at Gestalt Communications. Am I walking the talk?

Let me know in the comments.

Free Course – The Practice of Online Journalism

One of the great untapped resources, in my view, is the iTunesU. This is Apple’s initiative to get further education into the hands of as many people as possible. One course that I recently saw featured is “The Practice of Online Journalism”. It’s presented by The Poynter Institute for Media Studies and features 15 video lectures of between 40 and 70 minutes each.

I’ve not watched them all but this course is just one of a series on the practice of journalism with visual journalism, leadership and ethics among the various topics also covered.

They’re all free to download and can be watched on a PC, iPad or any video-capable iPod. To find them, open iTunes, click the iTunesU link at the top of the screen and search for Poynter.

Quick Tips – getting PR to communicate with you

What's your favourite communication strategy for PR?

It’s happened to every journalist I know. You need to talk to a PR person to get some piece of critical information and they don’t respond to email or messages promptly. How do you get PR to communicate with you and respond in a timely manner? Here are two tips. One was passed on by a colleague and the other was one I resorted to recently.

1. Check your email for when PR usually sends their messages

This tip was passed on by my friend Zara, the Editor of PC World New Zealand. When you need to send an email to a PR person and want them to respond, search back through your email and look at what time the PR person usually sends their mail to you. This will give you an insight into their work habits and help you find a time they’re more likely to respond to you.

2. Go public

I used this tip just this week. I called a PR agency who had promised me a review unit for a product round up I’m currently writing. As I’d not heard back, I made a call to their office and was told someone would bet back to me within half an hour.

Well over an hour passed and there was no call. So I sent a message over Twitter – in the public tweetstream – making mention of the slow response. Within a few minutes I received a direct message telling me someone was going to call me within the next 15 minutes – a promise that was met.

So – what are your tips for getting PR folks to respond to your requests? Is there a trick that works for you. Please share your tips through the comments below.

Make your home office more productive

One of the great benefits of self-employment is being able to work from home. While that sounds like fun, there are lots of challenges. Being productive at home takes discipline and organisation. That means establishing an area that is clearly for work.

When you’re working from home you need to set aside an area that is designated as a workspace. If you’ve got a young family, you’ll need to find a way to quarantine your work space. If you’re working from a shared home space, like a dining-room or kitchen table, you’ll need to train your family into making it a “Do not disturb” area during working times. I know that can be difficult – my family was pretty young when I started freelancing – but you need to find a way. That can be by setting some rules.

The “Time Quarantine” Method

For example, you can designate certain times to be work times when you can’t be distracted. Or, you can set your working hours to work around your family commitments. If your kids attend school or kindergarten, you can set your working hours so that you work when the children are out. Then you can give your family some attention when they’re home but focus when they’re out.

It doesn’t matter how you use the “time quarantine” method but it’s important that if you find a way that works for you.

The problem with just being able to quarantine time to work means that you need to be able pack up your office. If you struggle with keeping your research and other notes in order then it’s worth looking at online tools like Evernote (that I’ve written about before) to help you keep organised.

The “Space Quarantine” Method

If you have the luxury of a dedicated workspace then many of your productivity challenges are already taken care of. However, are you getting the best bang for buck from that space?

If you use a laptop as you main work computer, it’s a good idea to elevate it so that the display is at an ergonomically appropriate height. The rule of thumb is to have the top of the display at your eye level. The cheapest way to do this is with a couple of phone books although there are lots of more aesthetically pleasing options around.

With the laptop elevated, you’ll also need a mouse and keyboard. The best combination is the one you’re most comfortable using. Many computer stores have several models on display. Try a few out to see which are best for you.

If you have a desktop computer, the same rules apply.

One thing to consider if you have the desk space and budget is a dual screen (sometimes called a two-head) set up. This is where your computer desktop spans across two screens. The productivity benefits are substantial as you can have two applications open at once. For example, if you use Google Books for research and type into your preferred text editor you can have both open side-by-side. There’s myriad research supporting the productivity benefits. Just Google “dual screen productivity” to find some for the research.

Some general guidelines

Regardless of where you set up your workspace, there are a few things that I find helpful. Here’s a short list.

  • Keep your workspace tidy. Having lots of stuff you don’t need on your workspace distracts you.
  • Remove distractions. If there’s something in your workspace that breaks your concentration, get rid of it.
  • Have a filing system that works for you (here’s mine).
  • Cleanliness – I find I work better when my office is clean. That means vacuuming each week (at least), emptying the rubbish and recycling bins before they overflow and not leaving junk on the desk.
  • Make sure you designate your work area as a work area and that while you’re working, it’s a “no-fly zone” for others.

So, what are your home office productivity tips? Does a “no-fly zone” work for you? Tell us what works for you in the comments.